Stress, mental health issues and depression are part of modern life. And there is a lot of help out there for people who have to live with these conditions. But what about the other people who live with them, whose lives are affected everyday by the stress of having a partner with a diagnosis, stress and depression. If you are in,or have ever been in a relationship with someone who suffers from a diagnosis you will know how hard this can be. There is not only the pressure of supporting your partner emotional, often all the nuts and bolts of life, normally shared between two people are weighing on your shoulders. In affect you become the primary adult in the relationship. The strain of being in a relationship with a partner affected by stress or another mental health issue is enormous. You are under constant pressure, rarely get time to recharge your own energy and burnout looms regularly on the horizon. Added to which your relationship suffers as un intentionally your partner’s condition takes your energy and wears you down.
Yet despite all of this pressure, the mental, and sometimes physical draining lifestyle,you stay in this relationship. You of course love your other half. You hate to see them suffer and want nothing more than to make it all better for them. It’s natural. However in order to be there for them, you need to be there for you. Very often the non diagnosed partner is the axis upon which your life spins. The rock and foundation. So if you are this person you need more than most of us to take care of yourself.
In my life I have had one partner who, despite being the sweetest most wonderful person on the planet had three mental health diagnoses which often gave him stress and depression. I knew this when entering the relationship and I was willing to support him. And I did. I took on the household, our calendars. I organised, supported, cared for, helped and guided. In essence my partner entered into a unhealthy co-dependant relationship. Eventually (and inevitably) I hit burn out. My patience became non existent. My energy was lower than it had ever been. This manifested in resentment , frustration and our relationship began to deteriorate. At first I hit the blame cycle and blamed his diagnoses, his stress in general him. However luckily I took a step back an realised it wasn’t his fault it was mine. I had lost me in his problems. Forgotten to take care of me, to prioritise myself, my needs and my own health. He hadn’t entered into a co dependant relationship alone. I had encouraged him, created it. It was a wake up call and a half. And led me to learn a manual of self care that saved the relationship.
If you have a partner who has mental health issues and you feel as though you are drowning in responsibility then here are the steps I took to recharge myself and our relationship.
It is easy to point the finger of blame when we feel hurt, let down or rejected by our partner. However it’s not your partner’s fault he hasn’t got the energy to go to your friends wedding with you. It’s not your fault that you haven’t been having sex lately. It is a by product of your partner’s condition. Most people who are suffering with mental illness would give anything to be normal and love and care for their partners, 100%. Unfortunately they can’t. Living with mental illness takes a lot of energy. On the good days your partner will be able to be caring and loving. On a bad day they won’t. It’s not personal. They still love you they just don’t have the energy to show it. Blaming them or yourself just starts a negative spiral which is hard to get out of and will waste your own personal energy reserves.
Structure and share
Daily life can seem overwhelming when living with a mental health problem. One of the ways to make both of your lives easier is to get into a routine. Make a week plan each week and follow it. Try and make life as easy as possible for you both. Go shopping once a week. Wash your clothes on the same day. Walk the dog at the same time. Even having a fixed date night time once a week will help as your partner will know they have to save energy for you.
Don’t expect your partner to be able to do and give the same energy as you can (this is just going to lead to disappointment).At the same time your partner will want to help and be giving in the relationship too. Share the chores and responsibility areas based on what your partner can do. This is also a great way for you both to see and appreciate what it is you both do for you as a couple.
You both need it. If you are your partners only form of support you are going to burn out fast. Your partner needs someone else there for them. At the same time so do you. Typically in life when we have issues it is our partner that we turn. However if our partner has a mental health issue they might not be able to cope with hearing about your problems let alone support them. Explain to friends and family the situation at home and contact them when you need to talk or get help. If you know you have extra pressure at work one week ask people to help you look after the kids or the house. It’s ok to ask and receive help. You do not have to be superman/woman 24/7. It may also be wise to get some professional help for yourself as support for when the going gets rough or simply just to keep an eye out on potential burn out.
When your partner gets flu you become the caretaker. Mental illness is just the same. You need to take breaks. To do things for yourself. Go to a spa, to the gym, to a cafe or even have a weekend away from home. Wherever you can relax and however you relax make it important to do it. I found that one night off a week at home was something I really needed so I made sure my partner visited family once a week. It got him out and gave me my much needed downtime.
Take Care of the basics
Take care of yourself on a basic level. Sleep well, eat well, keep up your personal hygiene. Remember to dress up once in a while. Sometimes, in the harder periods it can be difficult to eat so graze (healthily) instead. You need to take care of the machine in order to be the strong rock you and your family need.
Remember you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness
Even though you want to do as much as you can to help your spouse, you need to remember that neither their condition (nor their recovery) depends on you. You cannot fix your partner. What you can do is encourage them in positive directions and coping mechanisms. Whatever they need, you can encourage them in that direction.
Remind yourself why you love your partner
Sometimes the condition can take over and you feel as though the person you love is gone forever. They are still there. Sometimes you just have to work harder to see it. Make a list of all the the things you love about your partner. Just giving yourself a moment to step back and really see the person you love will give you a boost of energy.
Remind your partner that you love them
It can be hard for your partner to see and recognise everything you do for them. A mental health issue can make you blind to what is really there. At the same time your partner may hate themselves for being the way they are. Remember to tell them that you love them on a daily basis, it helps.
Communication is important in any relationship but even more so in a relationship with diagnosis. Don’t assume anything ask. Ask your partner what they need, what they mean. Communicate what you need from them. Don’t be ambiguous be direct and concrete in your communication.
Live your life
When your partner is struggling it may feel unfair to enjoy your life outside your relationship. But it is important for you. You need to laugh, to do the things you love and spend time with the people you care about. Your entire life cannot an should not be ran in accordance with another persons needs. Remember also to make time with your partner aimed at what they can cope with. Live your life with them and away from them
It is not easy to be with a person who has a short or long term mental illness. However when you take care of yourself, encourage them to get the help they need and your relationship will become stronger. You are both on the same team. By taking care of you, you will create the mental and emotional resources that will take care of your relationship and builds a secure base you can both count on.